All over the world there are different versions of the funny, bearded man who gives presents to children in December or in some countries in January. In contrast to the bloated, red-clad Santa Claus of the West, Russian Santa Claus, known as Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), is slender with a magical flowing beard and wears a long robe that comes in a variety of colors such as blue and white.
He is not supported by elves, but by his beautiful granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow White). His sleigh is not driven by reindeer, but by three steel horses. What really sets Russian Santa Claus apart from his western counterpart is the tumultuous century he is facing. He survived a violent social and political revolution in which he passed from beloved to exile as a subversive element, then loved again and hailed as a symbol of the true Russian spirit.
The problems for Ded Moroz and his grandson buddy, drawn from pagan Slavic mythology, began with the founding of the Soviet Union in 1922. Under the new communist regime, based on the promise to create social equality, religion was banned because it was viewed as a bourgeois instrument used to oppress the working class. Many clergymen and some believers in the Russian Orthodox Church were sent to labor camps or killed. In 1928, Ded Moroz was exiled after « being exposed as an ally of the priest and the kulak [allegedly rich peasants whom the Communist Party saw as a threat to their power], » explains Karen Petrone in her book « Life Has Got More. » « Happy comrades. Christmas Day, celebrated on Jan. . 7 in Russia and some Eastern European countries following the Julian calendar has been deleted and all festive celebrations have been banned. Those who break the rules risked arrest.
In a sharp turn in 1935, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin decided to get Ded Moroz out of the cold in order to “increase his popularity and maintain stability,” says Petrone, a history professor at Kentucky University. An aggressive period of collectivization between 1929 and 1932, when the government forced farmers to abandon their individual land and join collective farms, sparked fierce opposition. Millions of peasants who opposed the policy were sent to prison camps. The disruption caused by collectivization resulted in a famine that killed at least five million people across the Soviet Union.
Stalin lifted a ban on celebrations, but only on New Year’s Eve in order to avoid the celebrations taking on a religious meaning, and instructed Ded Moroz to do so on the morning of 1. January to give gifts. 1. He also brought back the tradition of putting chirstmas trees in houses that were previously considered an « economic evil, » says Petrone, and renamed them New Year trees. « Life has become better, comrades, life has become more joyful, » said Stalin in 1935 when he promised workers a better standard of living.
State-controlled New Year’s Eve footage showing happy workers dancing and drinking to the health of Stalin painted the picture of a more prosperous era. In reality, however, life has not improved for the majority of the population. Such recordings were part of the state propaganda machine that tried to portray the Soviet Union as a « superior system » over the capitalist West, which was in an economic depression, says Petrone.
Ded Moroz was more than just a gift giver, he was the giver of pro-communist PR. In 1949, the Associated Press reported that when Ded Moroz met with children, he would typically end his conversation with the question, « Who do we owe all the good things in socialist society? » to which the children’s choir replies: “Stalin. In the 1960s, at the height of the space race between the Soviet Union and U. . S.. . Ded Moroz appeared in flying rockets on cards and posters, some with the caption: “Ded Moroz is seriously ready for space flight. ”
In the meantime, some U. . S.. . Officials used Ded Moroz to highlight the alleged dangers of ending religious practices. In 1966, Senator Joseph McCarthy warned that « brutal cynicism » was on the rise in the U.. S.. . In response to a 1962 ban on government sponsored prayer in public schools, “it only competed with the Soviet Union where they eliminated Santa Claus and brought in Grandfather Frost. Will that satisfy the children of America? “
When communism began to fall across Europe in 1989, Ded Moroz fell out of favor in some of the Eastern European satellite states to which the Russian gift giver had been exported. Countries like Bulgaria and Romania restored their original versions of Santa Claus when they returned to their ancient customs.
When the cultural influence of the West invaded new capitalist Russia in the 1990s and with it Coca-Cola billboards with a beaming western Santa Claus and ornaments of the limp man on the shop fronts, Ded Moroz decided to do business. In 1998, then Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the local authorities marketed Veliky Ustyug, a small town surrounded by pine forests in the northern region of Vologda, as the home of Ded Moroz and built him a wooden palace with 12 rooms. Open all year round, the palace attracts around 250 a year. 000 guests. In the vicinity of his residence you can rent cottages where you have access to a swimming pool, sports facilities like skis and sledges, a restaurant and a New Year souvenir shop. In the capital Moscow, Ded Moroz has branches in Kuzminki Park and 55. 3rd floor of the Imperia Tower in the city center for New Year visitors. Ded Moroz and Snegurochka appear regularly in advertisements, including for Pepsi and the Russian Sberbank.
Ded Moroz is still the most popular gift giver in Russia today and the New Year is the most important winter vacation. However, there seems to be a rivalry between the Slavic magician, whom some politicians promote as a true symbol of the Russian spirit, and his Western counterpart, who is often viewed as a « deceiver ». .
In 2008, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had taken steps to revive Soviet nostalgia and forge closer ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, visited the wooden palace of Ded Moroz. That same year, Luzhkov said, “Look at our huge, handsome Ded Moroz. The measly Santa Claus is far from him! “After the escort of Ded Moroz through the center of Moscow. Boris Gryzlov, a speaker at the time, said: “Nobody will ever be able to take Ded Moroz away from Russia – neither Santa Claus nor any other impostor. ”
Some Russians feel very passionate about their traditional winter figure and their desire to protect them from Western culture. In December, Denis Amosov, a marketing specialist from the Siberian city of Tomsk, initiated a lawsuit in which 30 million rubles (411. 000 US dollars) as compensation for “moral damages” against Coca Cola for “imposing” Western Santa Claus in his Russian advertising. He also appealed to Putin and the Ministry of Culture to limit “Santa Propaganda” in the country. In an Instagram post, Amosov said: “There is a link between adults and children that a Happy New Year is only possible with Coca Cola and Santa Claus. Russian traditions and centuries of history are being lost. « .
Soviet Union, Santa Claus, Russia, Communism, Ded Moroz, Joseph Stalin, Christmas Day
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